Debbie Bell Fish
20 April 2009
The Story of the
as a literary genre seems to be the domain of the more mature reader, as it
takes some “years under one’s belt” to fully understand the implications of the
facts and situations of another’s life.
The story of one of literature’s great collaborations, that of brothers Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm, is full of
occurrences that would indicate to an astute reader what sort of rare men they
were, having both political and personal courage rare for any day. They were men who evidenced a mature
understanding that the consequences of one’s actions are a secondary
consideration to the moral correctness of one’s actions, and the even rarer ability
to accept the unpleasant consequences of morally upright behavior. In spite of the unpleasant consequences of
poverty and political upheaval, these men managed to achieve a lasting fame
while contributing to both the world’s collection of folk tales and its
understanding of language.
the second child to Philipp and Dorothea Grimm, Jacob Carl arrived onJanuary 4, 1785inHanau, a market town
close toFrankfurt, Germany (National Geographic
par 20) only months after the firstborn son had died. On February 24 of the next year, he was
joined by his brother Wilhelm Carl, and the two would be inseparable most of
their lives. Although joined by three
other brothers and a sister, there was a special bond between the eldest
brothers, who grew up in a middle class neighborhood, as would befit children
of Philipp Grimm, a lawyer serving as the town clerk. It was a comfortable existence with servants
and luxuries which would, unfortunately, not last long (Hettinga 1-4).
family was soon to move to another small town, Steinau, when their father was
promoted to magistrate there. They would
live in a large, 200-year-old stone house (which still stands), full of mystery
and places for the boys to explore. They
were taught at home by Herr Zinckhan, a tutor who would be unable to offer
sufficient challenge, particularly to Jacob, who had been reading articles from
newspapers since age five. It was about
this time that the cataclysmic revolution began in neighboringFrance, the
first of many times that war and political upheaval was to touch the brothers
during their lifetimes. (15)
the time the boys were nine and ten, soldiers were wandering the streets of
their hometown, and their father, as magistrate, was busy keeping the
peace. He would soon leave the family
permanently, when in 1796 he became ill and died. Jacob, at age eleven, would be the head of
the family, as poverty descended upon them with only a small government pension
for income. The extreme intelligence
and responsibility of young Jacob is demonstrated by a letter that survives to
his aunt Zimmer concerning a financial investment, which says: “You have…the
sum of 400 talers on loan at 4% to Peter Mankel of Wachenbuchen. This man has paid no interest for three
years. I have therefore called in the
loan, for this state of affairs should not be allowed to continue” (Hettinga
21-22). It is hard to imagine a
similarly mature eleven-year old child in contemporary times.
was this same aunt who, recognizing the special abilities of her nephews,
supplied funds for them to be schooled inKassel
as the boys entered their teens.
Surprisingly, they were behind in their studies, but soon caught up and
surpassed their classmates. Lonely and
emotionally dependent on each other, they were unable to go home for holidays,
and spent their free time in the parks and libraries ofKassel.
Jacob was eventually accepted into a university, separating the two
brothers for the first time in their life. (32-35).
the university, Jacob would study law, as was his late father’s wish, and
eventually Wilhelm, who had had the first of a lifetime of health problems,
would follow. One of their teachers,
Professor Von Savigny, would be instrumental in guiding the boys, and would
later invite Jacob to be an assistant in the French national library inParis. Jacob’s acceptance would change his fate, and
it would be several years before he would be reunited with his family. Jacob’s next job would be as a clerk in the
Hessian war office, a dull routine that gave him little time to study, as he
had done in the library (Hettinga 49).
would soon have more of the health problems that would always plague him, but
while undergoing treatment, he would happen on one of the activities that would
make the young men famous: collecting the folktales of oldGermany. Jacob soon was again working in a library,
this time the palace library after the French takeover of the country, and
eventually both brothers were immersed in the search for their own German
cultural heritage in the form of the folk tales. While their country was under the control of
the Napoleonic French government, they collected these stories, in part, to
“remind their country men of what it meant to be German” (Hettinga 66).
brothers Grimm recruited friends and colleagues for help in finding and
recording these stories, knowing that the oral tradition of their country was
fading. In 1811, Jacob sent an
invitation throughout the land to various scholars and others who might be
interested in helping, which specified the kind of stories that they were
seeking, and instructing that every word should be written down as the teller
told it, in order to preserve the vernacular language of the country folk. They would find that many of the submissions
were written in “proper” German, and this lessened the appeal for the young men
It was also in this year that each brother
published his first book, a scholarly work about the German mastersingers by
Jacob, and a translation of Danish songs and poems of old by Wilhelm. Both men were struck by the similarity
between the old stories ofScandinaviaandGermany
a publisher for the first of their collections of folk tales would arrive, and
eighty-six of these stories were published under the title ofKinder- und Hausmarchen (Children’s and
Household Tales). While it was
well-received, some readers complained of its superstitious nature, and others
thought that it was inappropriate for children because of the inherently
frightening nature of many of the fairy tales (Hettinga 187). There were no illustrations in the first
edition, but an abundance of scholarly footnotes ((bill) In spite of
the problems, a second volume was soon underway as the Grimms continued
interviewing and collecting folk tales from the older residents and working
class folk of their country. John M.
Ellis, in his bookOne Story too Many:
The Brothers Grimm and Their Tales,quotes
scholars Iona and Peter Opie who stated: “The Grimms were…the first to write
the tales down in the way ordinary people told them, and not attempt to improve
them; and they were the first to realize that everything about the tales was of
interest, even including the identity of the person who told the tale” (10). Ellis also believes that the Grimms were “the
founders of the ‘scientific study of folklore and folk literature’”(10).
books would ensure the lasting fame of the two formerly obscure German
brothers. T. F. Crane, in his article
“The External History of the ‘Kinder- und
Haus-marchen’ of the Brothers
Grimm,” alleges that “we are amazed at the enormous development of studies
which owe their inception to these two volumes. The editors justly claimed that
theirs was the first collection inGermanywhich represented correctly
the oral traditions of the people” (608).
on the surface, this work is merely a collection of folk stories passed down
through generations of native German speakers, it has become a collection of
much analyzed and discussed literature. James
M. McGlathery, in an untitled review, states that there are three main avenues
of analysis of the “fairy tales”:
The psychoanalytical approach, begun already
by Freud himself…and … taken up again most recently, though in a different
vein, by Maria Tatar in her studyThe
Hard Facts of the Grimms' Fairy Tales(1987). [A second approach is] feminist criticism [which] has made the genre
a focus of study, withGrimm's Bad Girls
and Bold Boys(also 1987) by Ruth E. Bottigheimer the newest and most
comprehensive investigation of the Grimm stories from this perspective. A third
approach views the genre as reflecting social history, as practiced notably by
August Nitschke in hisSoziale Ordnungen
im Spiegel der Marchen(1976-1977). (368)
the publications met with some success, financial ease was never to be the
brothers’ lot in life, and they continued to struggle for money. After the defeat of Napoleon atWaterloo, their exiled
king returned, leading to increased political stability. The brothers were able to get library jobs in
would enable them to earn a living and still have time for their research and
studies. Jacob was called upon to
translate and write documents at the Congress of Vienna in 1814, and this would
be one of several political appointments that he would hold during his
lifetime. Although he was certainly more
than competent, he refused to socially intermingle, and thus never rose up
through the ranks (Hettinga 103).
was at this time that Jacob focused his interest on the history of the language
with particular focus on its grammar.
According to his biographer, Donald Hettinga, “he believed that an
understanding of old languages could help explain the development of tales” (34). His
study would lead him to discover the relationship between many of the world’s
languages, particularly that Sanskrit and German had a common root. Oddly enough, his scholarly book on the
subject sold better than the brothers’ earlier volumes of folk tales.
Grimm as grammarian and scholar of languages is perhaps best known for
connecting the dots between the various languages descended from Indo-European
pattern of certain consonant sounds as they changed from the Indo- European
languages into either Latin or a Germanic language. The pattern could predictwhen ap
sound would become anfsound or absound, when atsound would transform into
athor ad,when aksound would
evolve into achor ag. (Hettinga 99)
Although this discovery, known as
Grimm’s Law, was credited to Jacob, another scholar, Rasmus Rask, would
independently come to the same conclusions at about the same time (99).
“’Grimm’s law’ is still a landmark in the explanation of how an Indo-European
dialect developed into the Germanic group of languages” (Ellis 5).
brothers’ fame would lead scholars from all overEurope
to travel to meet the now-famous Brothers Grimm, a mixed blessing for the
socially retiring and quite busy men. Wilhelm
had married an old sweetheart from his early youth, and had children, but Jacob
never married, although he was devoted to his nieces and nephews. Political upheaval and poverty had forced
them to move both professionally and personally many times, and whenever
possible, Jacob lived with his brother and family, a situation that strikes
modern readers as somewhat unusual, but was doubtless done quite often at the
time. Fame had brought both brothers
university jobs as lecturers, and while Wilhelm thrived and was a much adored
professor, Jacob found that he much preferred the solitude of research to the
demands of the classroom. (Hettinga 113)
as it seemed as if life had settled into a relatively pleasant pattern,
political upheaval interrupted the brothers’ lives again. The
new King Ernest Augustus had revoked the four-year old constitution and
eliminated many freedoms, and upon his ascension to the throne, he required all
university professors to take an oath of allegiance to him. The brothers refused to sign, along with five
other professors, a group soon to be known as The Gottingen Seven. Students at the university, and eventually
throughoutEurope, rallied and protested in
honor of the men’s brave act of principal, and the two brothers were even more
famous than before. The two were much
amused by a chance encounter with stranger in a restaurant the brothers entered
while traveling. The man was discussing
the much admired Gottingen Seven, when
he turned to Jacob and said, “I saw Grimm there, with my own eyes!” (Hettinga
123) Although they would lose their
university positions because of their political principals, they found great
comfort in the support, both moral and financial, of many people ofEurope.
of jobs, the brothers pondered what to do, when they were invited to begin what
would be the last large project of their lives.
They would begin a dictionary of the German language. Their plan was to include all German words
going back to the sixteenth century, including obscenities, and to “quote
examples showing how the words were used” (Hettinga 127). They invited fifty scholars to help
accumulate the vast number of words necessary to effectuate such a project. It would become one of the earliest
dictionaries to the German language, and in the foreword, Jacob stated that he
hoped ‘to establish a shrine to the language, preserve its entire treasure, and
hold the entrance to it open for everyone” (Echo Germanica 1). It would be a
labor of love for the brothers, although one that neither would live to
would create a work that has remained useful to the present day. In 1998, The German Research Foundation began
creating an on-line version of the Grimm’s work. The thirty-second volume was finished in the
1960s and was created over the course of a century by countless experts in the
linquistics field. It is considered one
of the most important compilations in the German language, containing 331,056
entries and 67,744 columns (Echo Germanica 1)
The Internet version also will make this great work accessible to the
common people for whom the Grimms intended it, as bound copies of the various
versions of the multi-volume set were far too expensive for the average man.
1841, the brothers moved toBerlin,
where they found themselves immensely popular celebrities with many social
obligations. Prussiarewarded Jacob with its
highest reward, the “tour le merit,”
and theUnited States
made similar awards to him. Their work
onThe History of the German Languagecontinued,
as 600,000 words were eventually added.
But once again, politics and war would disrupt the now middle-aged men’s
1848, King Frederick William ofPrussia
was faced with an uprising of his people because of his refusal to allow a
constitution. After an open revolt, he resigned,
(Hettinga 140). All the German kingdoms
chose representatives to meet at the Parliament inFrankfurt,
and Jacob Grimm was one of the 350 men chosen.
Within six months, he was discouraged by their inability to make any
progress, and resigned to return to his scholarly pursuits and creation of the
dictionary. For more than twelve years,
the brothers were able to work in relative peace on this important piece of
writing, with little outside distraction (Hettinga 140-147).
late 1859, Wilhelm, at age seventy three, died after a brief illness, although
his health had been perilous almost since his youth. Jacob, still healthy and vigorous, was
devastated and lonely. Soon his only remaining
sibling, his younger brother Ludwig, an artist, died. He was alone but for Wilhelm’s widow and
children (Hettinga 148).
the fall of 1863, Jacob took a mountain vacation trip, and returned with a
cold. Despite, or perhaps because of,
the treatment of leeches and mercury-based medicine, he would soon have a
stroke. Two weeks later, onSeptember 20, 1863,
attended by Wilhelm’s grown children, he would die (Hettinga 148-149). He was seventy-eight years old (Grimm
Brothers Homepage 1).
Brothers Grimm had lived in a time of political upheaval and incertitude almost
from the day of their birth. They had
faced the loss of a parent while they were still children, lived in great
poverty, and stared down the political powers that be. They had worked as researchers, scholars,
librarians, and professors, and spent the bulk of their time honoring the
German language and history that meant so much to them. They achieved great fame in their day,
although it was a fame that seemed more of a burden than a pleasure. Jacob never married, but focused all his
energies upon his work. Wilhelm, in
spite of poor health, managed to raise a family and still contribute greatly to
the work they undertook.
they are best remembered as the collectors and compilers of children’s stories,
this was only one of their contributions.
Jacob Grimm’s Law and their great workHistory of the German Languagewere perhaps as influential on
language study as any other work of their time.
Jacob wrote twenty-one books during his life, and Wilhelm wrote
fourteen. Together they created an
additional eight volumes. There were
also thousands of letters, and a twelve-volume accumulation of essays and notes
on various subjects and ideas (Zipes 68).
The most inspiring aspect of their lives is
their strong political stance and devotion to principal. Both focused on the importance of the history
of their German heritage, especially the folk traditions of the common folk of
the countryside and villages. Their
devotion to duty and principal is perhaps the most memorable aspect of their
private life, and their life story is as educational and inspirational as any
of the stories they transcribed
WORKS CITED AND
Ashlimann, D. L., compiler. The Grimm Brothers Home Page. Internet.
Accessed 23 Apr. 2009. <www.pitt.edu/~dash/grimm.html>
Crane, T. F.
“The External History of the ‘Kinder- und Haus-marchen” of the Brothers Grimm.” Modern
1917) 577-610. JSTOR. Accessed23Apr
Echo Germanica. Internet.
Ellis, John M. One
Fairy Story Too Many: The Brothers Grimm
and Their Tales. Chicago, UniversityofChicago
“Grimm’s Fairy Tales.” National Geographic Society. Internet.
Hartmann, R.R.K., Editor. Lexicography: Critical Concepts. Googlebooks.
Accessed 24 April 2009.<http://books.google.com/books?id=sNf4C9_0cKgC&pg=PA92&lpg=PA92&dq= Grimm's+Dictionary&source=bl&ots=8tUOK6dp4Z&sig=OgvO7mEdA91_MiS22FzgG UwbQ-0&hl=en&ei=-wX6SbL0BJKyyQWj5p23BA&sa=X&oi=book_res
Hettinga, Donald R. The
Brothers Grimm: Two Lives, One Legacy. New
York: Clarion Books, 2001 McGlathery, James M.
Untitled review. Reviewed work(s): “The
Brothers Grimm: From Enchanted Forests
to the Modern World by Jack Zipes.”German
Studies Review, I:2 (May, 1989), pp. 368- 369.
JSTOR. Access23 April 2009.
Tatar, Maria. The
Hard Facts of the Grimms’ Fairy Tales.
Editor/Translator. The German Legends of the Brothers Grimm, Volume I. Philadelphia: Institute for the Study of Human Issues,
Zipes, Jack David. When
Dreams Come True. Googlebooks.. Accessed24 April 2009.
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